Category Archives: Business

The Guide to Avoiding “Meeting Insanity”

When thinking about the most important things to consider in running a successful business, it’s typical to focus on big-picture considerations around the products/services offered, clients served, and profit earned. These things are all critical and should not be dismissed. But the boring stuff – how your business operates day in and day out – can sometimes be the defining factor that makes your business stand out amongst a crowded field!

Communication is one of those ‘boring’ things that is so fundamental to our experience as humans that we sometimes don’t think about how important it is! We are communicating all day long – with our clients, our co-workers, and of course, our dogs. But how well are we capturing this communication? And how well are we processing it in a way that is useful, versus allowing it literally to fall on deaf ears?

This is what communicating with our dog looks like…

The most formal type of communication is the dreaded ‘meeting’. Meetings can be (and often are) a big waste of time, either because no one properly documents them or moves any of the items forward that are discussed. This creates a cycle in which the same time next week you get in the same conference room with the same people and discuss the same thing. I’m calling this “Meeting Insanity”, because if this cycle isn’t the definition of insanity, I don’t know what is!

It’s time to put an end to this endless cycle. It’s time to put an end to sweaty, nervous glances in the conference room when the question “What did we decide in this meeting last week?” gets asked. It’s time to gain control of information in a way that makes you confident that you are getting the most of the time you are putting in when it comes to communication!

Below are some practical ideas to make sure that you get the most out of meetings – and all of your communication throughout your day!

Capture, Capture, Capture

Have you ever experienced a sinking feeling when you realize 45 minutes into a conversation that you forgot to press ‘Record’? If so, you understand how critical simply capturing communication can be.  You can’t really say “Sorry, can we start over and re-do the last 45 minutes of our conversation?”.

While this may seem ridiculously simplistic, when you are having any kind of important conversation the first thing you need to do is make sure you capture it. There are a few specifics with the capturing process that I do, as follows:

Point 1: Make sure there a plan in place to capture important notes for every meeting

It is difficult to both lead a meeting and take copious notes, so if it is a group meeting I always ensure there is a designated note-taker. If I am the designated notetaker in a critical meeting, I book some time to organize, consolidate, and send my notes immediately after the meeting (or as soon as possible).

If it is a video conference, a good option is to record the meeting in lieu of taking notes during the meeting. In meetings where a lot of critical details are shared, I spend some time listening to the conversation later to write down accurate notes. I find that I am much more engaged in the meeting itself when I don’t need to worry about capturing the notes until I listen to the recording later. (Note: ‘Recording’ is also great if there are stakeholders who have an interest in the meeting but are not able to attend.)

Point 2: If you capture one thing during your meeting, make sure it is ‘Action Items”

I take down somewhat ‘stream of consciousness’ notes during the call, but importantly I highlight action items as I go. This allows me to easily spot the action items afterwards.

Immediately after the meeting I spend some time organizing my notes, and I place the ‘Action Items’ – with clear task owners and due dates – on top. I make sure that these action items are crystal clear, leaving no doubt as to whether it is complete the next time the meeting occurs. I send it out immediately which allows others to dispute any part of what was agreed upon.

At the end of the day, capturing and distributing your notes in a consistent way ensures that others feel confident that you have things under control. And it serves the extra benefit of serving as a ‘source of truth’ when other stakeholders inevitably remember things differently.

Point 3: Have a great system to capture all of these action items and ensure things get done!

You can take the greatest notes in the world, but inevitably your notes will get lost in an avalanche of work that goes on in any project. It is critical to have a technology system that consolidates all of you and your team’s ‘to-do’s’ in a way that provides visibility for all. Depending on the complexity of your work, that could be anything from a shared Excel spreadsheet to a much more complicated system.

At Joy Accounting, we utilize a tracking system called Karbon. Karbon does the basics like allowing us to capture and assign action items. It also has many more advanced features which enables true visibility across the communication spectrum, such as the ability to turn an email you receive into a task and then assigning it to another team member.

The bottom line is this – taking control of communication is critical to avoid all types of communication insanity (including “Meeting Insanity”). If you can get control of this part of your business, everything will flow much more smoothly, everyone will understand what they are supposed to be doing, and amazing things will happen!!!

Master Juggler: The Small Business Owner’s Actual Job Title

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most balls successfully juggled is 11 and was accomplished by Alex Barron, an 18-year-old UK man, in 2012. In order to qualify for the record he had to make 23 consecutive catches. On the day in question he spent 4.5 hours trying to get to make his goal – not your average Sunday afternoon activity.

I am captivated anytime I run across a juggler at a fair. How on Earth do they have the concentration to keep the balls in the air? The coordination? The ability to play to the crowd? To understand my fascination, you need to know that I can’t even juggle two balls at once on a good day.

But did you know that if you are a small business owner that you are, in fact, a master juggler? Sure, your name might not be found in the Guinness Book, but given the amount of balls you juggle, I’m guessing you qualify!

There are many directions I could go with this metaphor, but I’m going to keep it simple and talk about what it means as a small business owner to start with one ball and add to it only when you’re ready.

Ball 1: Engaging in Learning, Growth, and Reflection

Think about this: the first ball you start with will *always* be in the mix. Whether you are simply tossing the ball from one hand to the other, or juggling a ridiculous number (11 comes to mind), you can’t drop this one because that means the show is over.

I believe the first, most critical ball is represented by personal and professional learning and growth. Ultimately, our own growth that we obtain is channeled to our clients. When people don’t do this, they can easily get stuck in a particular decade (like, I don’t know…getting stuck listening to 80’s music…because it’s certainly not objectively ‘good’). In our modern world, you see many people ‘stuck’ in the pre-Internet, or at least pre-cloud era.

The funny thing is that this is often the ball we drop first when things get busy. A question I’ll simply leave you with is this – how much time in a week are you spending on learning, growth, and reflection? If it’s less than 5 hours, consider reintroducing this ball to the mix and see the magic that happens!

Ball 2: Perfecting Your Core Craft

Although it’s essential to toss that first ball back and forth, it would get boring after awhile if that’s ALL you have going on – not to mention you’re surely not going to wow any onlookers!

When you build your business, you really need to decide what (product, service) you want to focus on, instead of introducing five balls at once. Even the best jugglers in the world don’t add five balls at once!

This process involves creating your company vision and then defining your product or service, your target audience, and your methods for ‘getting the word out’.

Once you combine ball 1 (your own personal learning/growth) with ball 2 (your core service/product), you now have a viable business that can truly meet your customer needs. Get really good at juggling these two balls back and forth; it may not be thrilling, or attract that much of a crowd, but you will always be happy that you perfected the initial motion!

Ball 3: Sharing Your Knowledge

Ok, so now you’re getting really good at the virtuous cycle that’s created when your ongoing learning (ball 1) is applied to your core craft (ball 2). All of the sudden you have a few folks who stop and check in on what you are doing…potential and new clients, employees, partners, and even friends and family!

Now is the time to think about how you are getting your message across. You have something to offer each type of person, but what you offer to each will be different. To your new clients, you want to train them in your methods. To your potential partners, you want to show them why your product/service is a useful add-on for their offering. And on and on…

It’s important to focus more broadly than just on your products/services that will make you money. You need to share your knowledge with the community – via daily interactions, blogs, etc.

Now you really have something going, as you are constantly learning (ball 1), perfecting your core craft (ball 2), and sharing your knowledge (ball 3). Is that a small crowd I see gathering?

Ball 4: Playing to the crowd

Let’s be honest, as a small business owner there are times in life when we can only juggle the first two balls well, and that’s fine. But once we get good at sharing our knowledge, the next step (ball 4) is what I call ‘playing to the crowd’.

Now playing to the crowd, mind you, is not to be confused with showing off. Showing off just for the sake of making yourself look good is easy for others to spot (not an appealing quality). Playing to the crowd involves developing your own personal flair that makes you stand out from the crowd just a bit more. This is where your friends and family really can help you – ask them what qualities they love about you and try to infuse those into your business. Everyone loves authenticity; there is no reason to hide your personality behind your business – instead let it shine through your business.   

If you get this fourth ball going you are literally ahead of 95% of small business owners, and the world is one big Kumamoto oyster (yes, I am an oyster fanatic).

Ball 5: Expanding your horizons

At this point, you’re in the groove – you build on your learning/personal growth (ball 1), continue to perfect your core craft (ball 2), share your knowledge with those around you (ball 3), and learn how to ‘play to the crowd’ (ball 4). Now, and only now, it’s time to expand your horizons. That could mean a million different things – is it time to add another ‘core’ offering to your business? Is it time to embark on an entirely new business venture? Is it time for your business to become completely remote so that you can travel more?  

Now, five balls in the air at once is not quite 11, but it’s more than anyone I know can do! At this point you are at the top of your game, well-positioned to influence the world around you.

Above all, the main way that running a successful business is like juggling is that, when everything is going well, it is a lot of fun! Congrats to all of you who are juggling three, four, or five balls – as a fellow small business we salute you!!!